That “AH-HA” Moment

By: Emily Hulbert

“Ok, does anyone have any questions on how to solve this implicit differentiation problem?” Patricia Fallon asks her 4th period Calculus class. The question is met with blank stares and crinkled noses. Although this is a confusing topic, Mrs. Fallon knows her students can handle it. Turning to the smartboard, she goes over the problem, a second time, emphasizing certain parts that are most difficult. She is awaiting to see and hear the most rewarding part of teaching. After a multitude of questions and comments, it finally happens… the students, who struggled to put their minds around taking a derivative of both y and x, have finally allowed the concept to click. The words “Oh” and “Now I understand” dance around room 252 as  light bulbs begin to turn on one by one. Mrs. Fallon smiles. The students have had their “aha” moment.

Mrs. Fallon, the AP Calculus  and Geometry teacher at Long Beach High School, knew she wanted to be a math teacher since she was a young girl. To her, math was a challenging puzzle: all the pieces needed to be put together to reach the final product.

Life was far from dull in the Donahue household. Mrs. Fallon  lived in a first generation Irish middle class home with her mother Rita Donahue, father Bob Donahue, and four siblings. While her mother stayed home to take care of the children, her father had an exciting job working for NBC News as a cameraman, frequently traveling to cover breaking news stories. Although her father was very successful, math was not his strong suit. “I think the math aptitude, shared with my siblings, comes from my mom’s side. My Dad had to do algebra twice in high school!” Two of her uncle’s from her mother’s side, one whom graduated Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute  at 19, were engineers.

In 1973, Mrs. Fallon attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg Virginia. Although she took a variety of math classes, not all of them were her favorite. “I did not really like the applied classes, but I loved things like number theory, game theory, and all the algebras! I took a course in non-euclidean geometry that was fun.”In her eyes, math was like a piece of art. “It’s beauty is in its application to the real world and in its timelessness.” Her four years of  hard work paid off in 1977 when she achieved a bachelors in math. As a child of a father who was the first to finish college in his family and a mother who only finished high school, Mrs. Fallon was proud of all that she was able to accomplish. Now she was ready to pursue a career where she could share the wonderful secrets of a subject she adores.

Or so she thought. After she graduated, Mrs. Fallon got engaged to Peter Fallon, who was studying to become a graduate assistant. As the pile of expenses kept on growing larger, the need for money became crystal clear. Mrs. Fallon went on a long pursuit to high schools all over the island, but could not find one single teaching job available. Desperate and in great need of money, she took advice from her cousin and worked to become an actuary. Her magical math abilities yet again came in handy as she passed the actuary exam the first time and spent seven years analyzing the chances of undesirable events happening within a company. Still, her heart yearned for her true passion of teaching.

Her dream was put into reality in 1996 when Mrs. Fallon was offered a teaching and leadership position at Kellenberg High School. She stayed at this job until 2002, when she took a teaching job at Long Beach High School. With each passing day Mrs. Fallon always brings a smile to her classroom, no matter if she has or hasn’t had her coffee and cereal. With so many students struggling with the curriculum, Mrs. Fallon is always ready to share her help at anytime.

With working ten hours a day and teaching five periods, it’s hard to believe that anyone would have the energy to pursue any leisure activities; not for Mrs. Fallon. She makes time for other activities that she loves; such as reading Jane Austen novels, watching Casablanca, planting perennials, and traveling to places like Ireland. Still, nothing could take the place of math in her heart. Every aspect of her job, even the relentless photocopying, brings her joy and happiness.

The “ah-ha” moments Mrs. Fallon sparks within her classroom has done more than change the way her students look at math. Many of her old students still contact her to say thank you for inspiring them to pursue a career in math and to ask for help on  college-level calculus problems. The bonds Mrs. Fallon builds with her students help to create a fun learning atmosphere. Mrs. Fallon shares her endless knowledge of math along with wise advice that relates to life  in and outside of the classroom. Even on her free periods, Mrs. Fallon offers help opportunities for students to do better on tests.More than anything, she wants her students to succeed in overcoming their difficulties with math.

After interviewing Mrs. Fallon, my perception of math took a turn for the better. Instead of thinking about math on the surface level, I began to think deeper, associating theorems and concepts to real life situations. Just recently, I  figured out what Mrs. Fallon meant when she said, “I love how math challenges me and I love the feeling when I “get it””. The feeling that comes after you put  all the pieces of the “math puzzle” into place by yourself. I look forward to 4th period so that I can challenge myself with math problems and allow myself to have my fill of “aha” moments.

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